How To Be a Good Ally For Indigenous Writers

Today we have a great article from Wordcraft member Shauna Osborn on how to serve as a good ally to Native and Indigenous writers and storytellers!  Enjoy and if you wish to contribute an article to the Wordcraft blog, contact us at: wordcraft.director@gmail.com!

It does not take much to find out what it means to be an ally. It does take a bit of work to figure out how to be an ally to a specific group of people. Being an indigenous ally can be particularly hard because of the large cultural diversity that exists within the term indigenous. The blanket term brings together tribal peoples from every continent, island, and region of the world. It includes nomadic and pueblo based cultures, more languages than you can list, and a whole slew of disputed and false identifiers. Below you will find ten basic things to do to prove yourself as an excellent Indigenous ally.

How to be an Indigenous ally:

  1. Recognize that Indigenous people do not exist homogenously across the globe. That means each Indigenous region or territory has its own way of doing things politically, culturally, or spiritually. Each tribe (and sometimes each band or clan) has its own language and symbols. The Woodlands Cree are not the same as the Plains Cree and both are different from the Araba and the Yoruba. Recognize these differences and respect them.
  2. Do some research. Read up on Indigenous peoples’ histories, cultures, and present community concerns. Find out about the tribes indigenous to your current city, state, and region. Learn about the tribal groups you are working with on specific projects. Part of being a good ally is not looking for someone to provide a 101 class midstream in a conversation or situation. Do your own heavy lifting.
  3. Acknowledge your prejudices. Throw those stereotypes and generalizations out. Recognize and acknowledge that they are crucial to the othering of the Indigenous by privileged people.
  4. Cultural appropriation destroys opportunities for Indigenous solidarity. Do not do this. Headdresses, dance regalia, tipis, loincloth, moccassins, “Indian names,” ceremonial items, ceremonial dress, and tribal artifacts DO NOT BELONG TO YOU. Using these items or wearing “war paint,” blackface, or redface is not ok.
  5. Respect Indigenous knowledge. Indigenous knowledge is something that has been taken for granted by many individuals that come from a place of privilege (anthropologists, policy makers, military, and artists). Respect the knowledge that is shared with you and always ask for permission to share or use what is given to you. If it is okay to share information with others, acknowledge the Indigenous person (and their tribal affiliation) who gave this information to you as you share that information.
  6. Realize that Indigenous peoples have survived genocide, diseases, residential schools, institutional abuse, assimilationist tactics, and crippling poverty. This survival comes at a price—many Indigenous people have PTSD, anger management issues, a strong distrust of privileged others,  health concerns, and disabilities. Be prepared and accommodating of these realities.
  7. Indigenous peoples/communities are the ones who know what they need. Being a good ally means you recognize this and uses your privileged position to publicly or privately align yourself with a particular Indigenous group’s needs. You are not our savior.
  8. Learn to be inclusive. Any project that attempts to work with Indigenous populations should include multiple tribal members in the planning process. Ask of the project: Does it have multiple Indigenous people helping organize and shape the event/project? Does the event easily include children, women, elders, and two-spirited peoples? Does it include collaborative work between multiple tribes and if not, should it?
  9. Listen. I cannot emphasize enough the importance of listening to Indigenous people discuss their reality and ways of seeing a situation. There will be differences from yours.
  10. Do not expect to be included in ceremonial spaces and activities because you call yourself an ally. Ceremonies are sacred and some are very specifically exclusive—even to members who belong to the tribe. That does not mean you will never be invited to participate in a ceremony, it just means that you will never be invited to participate or witness every ceremony.